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MOSCOW, December 20. /ITAR-TASS/. Russian officials deserve sympathy - the authorities have offered a prompt reaction to public sentiments and are firmly set to toughen anti-corruption measures in the sphere of state administration in a bid to break their habit of living in luxury, and especially doing so at the expense of the state budget.
President Vladimir Putin mentioned struggle with corruption at his annual major news conference Thursday. “You certainly know about the kind of measures we’re taking to curb corruption and particularly in the sphere of state administration,” he said. “You can see there the mandatory declaration of incomes, a mandatory reporting on purchases, a ban on bank accounts and real estate abroad, and we’ll continue toughening these regulations in the future, too.”
Putin’s wording was not quite precise, though. Government officials are still allowed to have properties abroad but they are obliged to declare them. On the face of it, the State Duma has resumed work on a resounding bill submitted the first time last year. The MPs proposed then to ban ownership of overseas properties or bank accounts by government employees altogether but the law that was endorsed eventually banned the bank accounts only.
Now the author of a version of last year’s law, MP Yevgeny Fyodorov of the United Russia party, who represents the All-Russia People’s Front in the United Russia faction in the Duma, hopes to make amendments in the law that would prohibit the ownership of overseas housing by state employees. The MPs had to take up the theme again in the wake of a recent incident with the governor of Krasnoyarsk territory, Lev Kuznetsov, whom robbers beat up and robbed in his own house.
The criminals attacked Kuznetsov’s villa on Cote d’Azure last Saturday. The governor was injured from a nonlethal gun, while his wife was struck with a police baton and the jewelries with the overall approximate cost of more than 200,000 euro were stolen from her.
Lev Kuznetsov presides over a large Russian region for almost 4 years. The Deklarator.org Internet portal published the data saying he earned 54.8 million rubles in 2012, while his spouse earned 9.5 million rubles. They co-own two plots of land in France with the total area of 3,500 sq m. Also the governor has an apartment in France and three apartments, a plot of land with an area of 14,400 sq meters, a residential house, five cars /a Ferrari; two Mercedes-Benzes, and a rarity ZAZ-965. Also, he has a BMW bike and a Sealine-T47 pleasure boat.
“The Kuznetsovs get the bulk of their revenues in the form of dividends on the shares, which they purchased when he was a big business executive,” his press secretary said, adding that Kuznetsov “never conceals he has legal properties abroad”.
It is true that the governor did not break any Russian laws or regulations and the authorities do not have any claims against him. But still the public opinion is disturbed. The rich continue causing much irritation in a country where 22 million people, or 15.9% of the total population, are living below subsistence level. This irritation is felt especially when the rich hold posts in state power. The pro-Putin United Russia party, as well as the All-Russia People’s Front sense these moods very clearly.
The authorities seem to be willing to put an end to the government employees’ eagerness to lead an easy life at the expense of the state budget. A system of federal contracts will replace the current mechanism of government procurements as of the New Year. According to its designers, it will weed out the practice of purchasing luxury commodities by the government functionaries. The Ministry of Economic Development is designing a system of norms for the bureaucrats that will forbid the purchasing of luxury items.
Excessively lavish spending by the officials has regularly turned in the focus of public attention in recent years thanks to the efforts of the opposition and civic society activists. A roaring scandal pertaining to state procurements broke out in 2009 when the Interior Ministry placed an order for a bed of cherry-wood decorated with hand-carved ornaments and covered with a thin sheet of gold at the bed-head and the foot-board. The ministry was prepared to pay 24.4 million rubles for this article of furniture.
In April 2013, popular oppositionist Alexei Navalny declared the start of a campaign to gather 100,000 signatures at the website of the Russian Public Initiative to restrict the purchases of luxury car by high-rank functionaries. He proposed to set the upper limit of the admissible price at 1.5 million rubles /USD 1=RUB 32.9/.
A proposal by a group of MPs representing the United Russia party to set the price ceiling for the service cars at 1.2 million rubles for ordinary officials and at 3.0 million rubles for the heads of ministries and government departments came in the footsteps of Navalny’s initiative. The government has not provided its recommendations for either initiative since then, however.
Kommersant Daily quotes Kirill Kabanov, the chairman of the National Anti-Corruption Committee as saying that the bureaucrats’ enrichment by siphoning budget funds took shape as an economic phenomenon in the wake of the case over activities of the company Mabetex, which focused on endless bribes that the Russian red-tapers received in exchange for lucrative contracts, including the ones for major restoration works in the Moscow Kremlin. “The grounding for luxuriousness was laid down then - dignified conditions for high-rank officials.” This malpractice overwhelmed the entire country at the end of the 1990’s: “Oil prices kept climbing higher and higher then and the authorities didn’t spare the budget monies then to demonstrate the sacral nature of state power.”
Kabanov says the situation with human resources and in the economy in general has changed since then. “Bags of money are gone and government offices are being taken by young people who must work on the basis of new principles - good salary but standard normal Western labor conditions,” he says.
Vladimir Putin said at the press conference Thursday that high-rank government officials should have big salaries. When a reporter asked him about the increase of remunerations to ministers and members of parliament, Putin said: “If we don’t pay good money for getting worthy specialists and top class experts - and that’s the kind of people we need in government agencies - then we won’t have any operational results.”
A decree Putin signed September 30 says the salaries of federal ministers and members of both houses of parliament is due to start growing this year and will reach 420,000 rubles /around $ 13,000/ a month by September 1, 2014.
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